More Money = More Motivation?

There’s a common misconception about the relation between motivation and money. People often believe paying their employees more will also raise their level of motivation in the long run. In this short article, I want to tell you about my experience with hiring people for corepo.org.

I personally have not found that I get a more motivated employee when I target a higher experienced, higher cost developer. It could have something to do with alternatives: in every salary category (junior, intermediate, senior, …), there are plenty of job alternatives and the people who are motivated by money will always have the equal number of alternatives at each pay.
If you start paying a developer two times more than when they started working with you just to get them motivated, they might as well look for another job that pays the same money.

The one exception to this fact I can think about is if you pay your employee significantly more than anyone else on the market would for the same seniority level and skill set. But then, their motivation becomes linked to an existential need: they only work because they don’t want to lose their job. When people have something to lose, particularly if they have a mortgage to pay, a family to provide for, etc, they will be more likely to be assiduous at work. But I think you can agree with me when I say this type of motivation is far from being healthy.

Another problem one can think of about incentivizing with money is the problem of creative jobs. How are you supposed to evaluate how much money their work is worth? Can you pay them as much, if not more than other employees? And how would these employees react to this pay, considering they might not fully comprehend the importance of creative work?

A few examples of better drives than money for work include:

  • VISION: you want your employee to feel like they’re doing something that will make a difference in the world. That they are working for a good cause, for something that animates them (like working in healthcare, helping animals…).
  • GROWTH: when working for you makes your employee feel good about themselves, when they know why they are with you and why they are doing what they do with you. For instance, if they know they are developing new skills, or strengthening their knowledge.
  • SOCIAL: being part of a cool and interacting team can be quite uplifting. Sitting in the same room as your colleagues, feeling the energy of some common deadline… If you make your employee feel at ease, feeling they are working as part of a special group of individuals can only be beneficial in terms of intrinsic motivation.

To illustrate these examples with my current company, corepo.org, building motivation starts during the interview session. When we talk with candidates, we explain our purpose to give them a sense of mission (VISION).

We also focus on the abilities they will learn and develop while working with us. I always make sure I know where employees will move to next and I think about how the work they do at corepo is going to help them accelerate their future career (GROWTH).

During the pandemic, the SOCIAL aspect is obviously harder to reach, but we put in place specific channels and group discussions on our Discord server to use for something else than just work. We strive to recreate the atmosphere of a working community with “off moments” where we can just have a laugh together and share our daily stories.

I am currently re-reading Daniel H. Pink’s book about motivation, so I will soon post a short review on the lessons to keep in mind from this read. Meanwhile, if you guys have any question, or would like to tell me about your experience or your views on the relation between money and motivation in the business world, I would be more than enthusiastic to discuss it with you.

Thanks for reading!

Do you believe money actually buys motivation in most cases?
  1. Yes
  2. No
  1. 8

    I hired an exceptional engineer who was working from home. One Sunday morning he called to give me an update. He had been working all weekend and his back was hurting. During our conversation he sounded like he was stretching and groaning while talking to me. I asked him what was wrong and he said that he had worked through the night and that his chair really sucked.

    About 2 hours later I knocked on his door with a brand new executive chair designed to ease stress on the back. He was very surprised to see me and seemed to really appreciate that I had noticed his plight and done something out of the ordinary to be supportive of him.

    Now I'm not sure if the chair had anything to do with it but he was extremely loyal. During a period of time when pay was delayed, due to the time it took to secure an incoming investment, he kept working even though pay wasn't a certainty.

    His salary was pretty huge in comparison to the cost of that chair but it seemed like the chair was more significant to him. He mentioned it many times and told other people who we were recruiting about this story. My intention was just to be kind. However, that chair turned out to be a really good investment.

    1. 2

      Woah what a nice story!

      I guess the chair can be seen as a proper token of gratefulness for the work he does, as opposed to money which is part of the contract, and what would have been expected. So it doesn't seem odd to me that it seemed more significant to him in comparison to his salary (which is obviously important, but is just a basic right in the contract).

      Were you guys close personally before this gift, or did you grow closer afterwards? Or was/is your relationship only professional?

      1. 3

        It was a professional relationship only but I really like him. He was one of the most amazing developers I've ever witnessed.

        I hope more people create posts like this one you created. Personally, I believe so much success is attributable to non-money motivations.

        1. 2

          Thank you really, it means a lot 😊

  2. 5

    I voted no because after acquiring more paying users, for some odd reason; I don’t feel any “happier” than I did with my first paying user and that was 2 weeks ago. It’s a weird feeling but I was under the assumption that more money (paying users) will motivate me to work harder but I was working much harder prior to having any paying users.

    I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t have any real goals anymore now that my recent project is live and all I am doing is bug fixes but I can predict now that if I was making $2000 a month, it would be great because then I wouldn’t need to work a 9-5 but my overall happiness would not increase after surpassing that goal. I realized I don’t have any money orientated goals. I just want enough to cover the costs of living.

    My real ambition comes from working on new projects.

    1. 2

      I had a similar experience. Once I could cover my expenses and wasn't living paycheck to paycheck, my happiness and motivation actually decreased. I was so used to struggling that it was part of my identity. It took a while to get used to, but now I just save everything left over (I'd like financial freedom over anything). Oddly enough, $2000 is the amount I've settled on as 'a comfortable minimum' to live on.

      I think we put a lot of goals on money. When you achieve them, you start to realize it's endless. So you have to put your goals somewhere else to stay motivated and happy :)

    2. 1

      This is an interesting view on the matter, doesn't it motivate you to see more and more people using your product?

      Your real ambition is also understandable, begining new projects usually comes with the excitement of starting a new adventure, with its own load of purposes, challenges, etc.

      Can you still get motivated while working on several projects at the same time though?

      1. 1

        "doesn't it motivate you to see more and more people using your product?"

        Yup. I don't think that relates to receiving more paying users though. Simply having more and more daily users is what drives me to keep going. I do appreciate if someone converts to a paying user but that alone will not motivate me "harder".

        "Can you still get motivated while working on several projects at the same time though?"

        I think for the past 5 years I have been working on multiple projects around the same time. As of right now, I am still working on multiple projects at the same time. I am much more motivated than sticking to one.

        1. 1

          Okay I get what you mean about paying users.

          And honestly, congrats to you for successfully working on several projects at once. I don't know a lot of people able to do that

          1. 1

            Yup, and thank you lol :)

  3. 3

    I think the question is tricky because it's very broad so I'd say it depends. (I'm a lawyer?😳😁)

    For employees I think more money does not necessarily mean motivation it's about fulfilling work, you have no idea how many consultants I know that work at one of the Big 5 but hate their life and work.

    For a Founder or when your company is just getting started I think money does ease away some of the uncertainty and pain of your business and it does feel good, hence motivates you to keep going but it's most likely not enough. Your base level of motivation must already be high enough to motivate yourself or you gonna have a bad time.

    1. 1

      Of course it's tricky, otherwise how do we create a discussion about it? Hahaha

      And I completely agree with you, because as a founder, more money means more validation from your audience, while as an employee it's more of simply a way to make up for your work.
      And for a founder, what other element would you consider important to stay motivated?

      1. 1

        And for a founder, what other element would you consider important to stay motivated?

        I'd say how much I care about the audience and want to see them succeed and how much I care about the problem I'm solving. So more towards fulfillment of the work I'm doing

        1. 1

          100% agree on this one. Feeling your solution matters and actually change things (even just a bit) for your audience is a real boost to keep working on improving it!

  4. 2

    Getting a raise never really motivated me, maybe because you'll almost never get more than one raise in a year. Sometimes a coworker leaves and you get an unexpected shot at another raise/promotion, but you don't know when that will happen.

    But making money in side projects really motivates me because in theory you can just keep improving and making more.

    1. 2

      I completely get you. Then, making money from your side project is of course more exciting because it symbolizes your work and reminds you what you're doing isn't vain, and that people validate it. It is also quite different from the "classic" type of job, so it is totally understandable and valid that earning money motivates you :)

  5. 1

    I'm conflicted now. Before reading, I would have voted "yes" because I always thought I was not paid enough for the work I actually do (and I still believe it), but it's true that I don't see myself working better if I had a raise and had to keep doing the same work...

    1. 1

      If you have another work option or if it's safe for you financially, do something about it and don't stay working in a place you don't feel good working at. Not good for you, and probably not good for your work either

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